Ever since inner tubes were placed inside bicycle tyres there’s been the problem of how to mend them in the quickest possible manner. The most common solution is to remove the inner tube and place it in a bowl of water and squeeze the tube lightly so air bubbles come to the surface from the offending puncture.
The culmination of the art of puncture repair is found at the Bicycle Mending festival in Yeovil, held in the third week of June every year.
People from all over the country come to Yeovil to test their skills. Each competitor is handed a bicycle both of whose tires have two punctures and so are completely unrideable. These punctures have to be fixed in the quickest possible time and the contestant has to ride their bike around a 10-mile course to test how well they have fixed the inner tubes. This latter ride prevents unscrupulous competitors from filling their inner tubes with glue or coating them with cat litter as happened in the early days of the contest. The winner is the person who crosses the line first in the cycle race.
The competition started in 1906 and there are separate events for men and women, which are then divided into separate contests based on age: these contests are for under 25s, 26 – 40, 41 – 55, and 56 and over.
The champion fixer has been Harry Creighton – born in 1914 – , who won first prize in his age class every year between 1934 and 1976, with the exception of 1956 when he was in hospital with a punctured lung after he’d fallen from his bike practicing for the contest. Harry’s big trick was to submerge the inner tube in a large bowl, find the punctures, and then quickly cover the holes with masking tape, which saved time compared to using glue and patches. Harry was also very wiry and a strong cyclist.
Monica Sullivan is the most successful female cyclist, having won 12 age group races during her career. She is most famous for a spectacular crash in the 1972 race when her patches failed to hold on a steep downhill section and she cartwheeled into a stream causing disruption to an angling competition. She was hooked by a fisherman as she floated past and he claimed her as a catch, but the judges disqualified his claim because he hadn’t landed her on the bank using a fishing net.
This is an extract from the book 40 Humourous British Traditions by Julian Worker